The Sedition Law: What Kind Of A Democracy Are We?

Posted on September 23, 2012 in Society

By Karmanye Thadani:

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) dealing with sedition has emerged among the most controversial legal provisions in recent years. A provision that disallows expression of disaffection against the rule of law mandated by a democratic process, this provision is argued to be a legacy of our colonial past, which it is, but the rule of law then meant the acceptance of subservience to foreign rule, while today, it means accepting the law that comes from our constitution that clearly asserts India to be a sovereign entity and democratically elected legislatures.

To allow someone to incite people to defy laws (amounting to inciting offences) is certainly not something that can be acceptable, for it can pave the way for a breakdown of the constitutional machinery. If any law is blatantly unfair and unreasonable or takes away your civil liberties or livelihood, the constitution gives you the recourse to challenge it in a court of law.

The freedom of speech and expression underlying a democratic process cannot be allowed to undermine itself. Those invoking the principle of the freedom of speech and expression to engage in sedition wish to actually undermine democracy. Examples of sedition would include the calls for secession by the Khalistani propagandists or the anti-democracy tirade to establish their own dictatorship by the Naxalites. These can certainly not to be tolerated. Have these groups ever respected free speech for our self-proclaimed libertarians to defend their right of free speech? The sedition law squarely falls within the ambit of the reasonable restrictions to the right to freedom of speech and expression mentioned in Article 19(2) of our constitution as also Article 19(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which India is a signatory.

The misuse of the sedition law to detain a cartoonist denigrating the Parliament House (how can one assert that he wasn’t only denigrating our current parliamentarians and not parliamentary democracy per se?) or to label peaceful protesters opposing a nuclear power plant (wonder why they didn’t try this stunt with Anna Hazare when they were unreasonably labelling him as an anarchist?) does not mean that the law by itself becomes defective? Our judiciary is indeed strong enough to put a check on the misuse of the sedition law.

[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: The author is a freelance writer based in New Delhi and has co-authored two short books, namely ‘Onslaughts on Free Speech in India by Means of Unwarranted Film Bans’ and ‘Women and Sport in India and the World: A Socio-Legal Perspective’.To read his other posts, click here.[/box]